Exhibiting Hajj

Project team

Department of the Middle East 

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council


  • University of Leeds

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Hajj, is one of the five pillars of the faith of Islam. It is a sacred duty for Muslims to go at least once in their lives, if they are able, to Mecca (Makka or Makkah), where the Prophet Muhammad received the revelation in the early seventh century. Drawing millions of pilgrims annually, Hajj is a powerful bond that draws Muslims together from across the world.

This project is carrying out original and synthetic research to provide the intellectual foundations for a major public exhibition on the Hajj and accompanying public programme. It will leave a lasting intellectual legacy for future studies of its history and visual culture.

Hajj certificate (detail)

Hajj certificate (detail). 17th–18th century AD. Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art (Khalili Family Trust).


About the project

Courier holding one of the oldest known copies of the Qur'an

Hajj has become a major social, cultural and political institution, an annual act of drawing together the Muslim community and renewal irrespective of sect or ethnicity. It has also created a specific range of artistic representations, literary genres and objects which testify to this very public affirmation of faith.

This project is using the material culture of Hajj to explore ways a museum can effectively engage diverse audiences with the meaning of the rituals of Hajj, its history and its religious significance. It is also examining how objects can tell these stories and how they have played significant roles in different aspects of Hajj.

An important part of this research includes documenting the experience of contemporary Muslims from the UK of Hajj, which is led by the University of Leeds.

Research questions

Contemporary souvenirs from Hajj

To explore how objects have played significant roles in different aspects of Hajj and how they can be used to tell these stories, this project has been considering a number of key questions.

  • How do objects reflect the history of Mecca, its role before Islam and its later history to the present day?
  • What do representations of Hajj and its key centres say about the changing religious, cultural and political importance of Hajj?
  • When did objects begin to be given to the sanctuary at Mecca, why, and what role did they play?
  • What do objects and artworks say about how the pilgrimage was managed and by whom?
  • How do objects show the affect of Hajj on the status of returning pilgrims and how this manifests itself?

Project outputs

The Ka'ba

Exhibition catalogue and publications

V. Porter (ed.), Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam (London, 2011) 

V. Porter, The Art of Hajj (London, 2011) 

There will also be papers published in peer-reviewed international journals or edited volumes on exhibiting Hajj, its material culture, and changing representations in art.


Thursday 22 – Saturday 24 March 2012

International scholars will present their latest research on Hajj. Papers will be published as an edited volume.


Images: Bottom left: British Library courier with Ma'il Qur'an, one of the oldest known copies of the Qur'an.
Middle: contemporary souvenirs brought back from Hajj 2010. Bottom right: The Ka'ba. AP/PA.